On Realizing You’ve Been Abused.
TRIGGER WARNING :
These article contains information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.
Dealing with sexual assault is always an immensely complicated and emotionally disruptive process. But coming to terms with assault months or years after it happened is on it’s own turbulent, daunting, and traumatic experience. It comes with the fear of people dismissing your case, just because you didn’t report it back when it happened, people raising disbelief and questioning why you chose to come forward at a particular time.
My own experience realizing I was raped has been a complex, confusing, and deeply painful journey. The trauma and agony that came with being the victim of such a horrendous crime, provoked/triggered an inner struggle. I battled to understand why I had dismissed the incident when it happened, why as an educated young woman I failed to notice all the red flags, why my mind had decided to bury that night altogether.
When I realized I had been raped, I misplaced my anger against myself, instead of against my abuser. If I had realized earlier, and reported it back then, perhaps I could have prevented him from doing the same thing to other girls. I was confused, because I remember the day after being raped, feeling abused, my body aching, seeing the used condom but having no recollection of what had happened that night. I also remember texting him, asking what had happened. His answer felt wrong, our relationship had always been abusive but instead of telling someone how utterly horrible I felt, my mind pushed the incident aside, blaming it on the alcohol. When the only person to blame is him.
It took me approximately 9 months to grapple with my assault. To share my story. To overcome the concoction of emotions I felt that night, and all the new ones that surfaced when I confronted the fact that I had been raped. I’ve since learned two things which I believe are worth sharing.
The first is that confronting what actually happened to you can take time, and that’s alright. It’s never too late to speak up and you should never feel guilty about the time it takes you to comprehend the severity and extent of what you suffered. Our brains and bodies deal with traumas in ways we sometimes don’t notice or understand. The particular relationship some victims have with their abusers makes it even harder to realize, and that is never the victim's fault. Realizing you’ve been assaulted does not oblige you to report. But if you do want to come forward, there will be people and organizations that will support you. Grappling with abuse can be a long and arduous process, but you are never alone and you are never too late.
The second, is that movements like #MeToo, which encourage sisterhood, are extremely powerful and important. The reason is twofold. Firstly, when other women share their story and experience in raising an accusation, it can help many remember their own stories, and identify patterns of behaviour if they know the abuser, or just connect the dots based on others’ reports. High profile stories or those circulating in public conversations tend to cause a spike in victims and survivors reaching out for support. When you listen to the experiences of others, you’re forced to reevaluate your own. People increasingly see the signs, revisit previously suppressed memories and open up wounds, allowing them to grasp what happened and start the process of healing. Often, as was the case with me, survivors question if what happened to them actually “counts” as sexual assault or as rape. It wasn’t until a girl from my university told me what my abuser had done to her, that I started to remember how abusive and insistent he had acted with me. This girl, whose courage and strength I will never get tired of stressing or admiring, was the first person I told everything I could remember. Had she not shared her story with me first, I probably would still be in denial about what happened…
Moreover the other, and perhaps more important reason why movements and survivor stories are essential, is that they give other survivors the strength and inspiration necessary to share their own experience. When you know you’re not alone, you find comfort and support in sisterhood and are more likely to confront what happened to you, to share your story and empower others, and to heal as well. If you’ve ever watched the great film Bombshell, it’s a Hollywood portrayal of how one survivor speaking up can inspire others and thus create a movement that’s strong enough to demand justice and change. And that’s the power of sharing your story.
I’ve heard or seen, one to many times, comments of people along the lines of “oh, so now every woman has been assaulted”. With the rise of movements and groups that empower survivors to speak up, an obvious spike in allegations follows. As the paradigm is shifting, an increasing number of people are realizing that what they experienced does indeed count as abuse or assault. Being a victim of sexual assault is not a trend that women have suddenly decide to hop on. Movements lead to a rise in accusations because we find strength and inspiration in our sorority.
In short, if you’re struggling to come to terms with abuse or if you’ve recently realized you may have been a victim remember three things: it was never your fault, it is never too late and you are never alone.
Image Credit: Becca Tapert